In the wake of the recent white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, the U.S. bishops have announced that they are establishing a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
“Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, on Wednesday. “Marches by hate groups such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis are outrageous to the sensible mind and directly challenge the dignity of human life. It is time for us to recommit ourselves to eradicating racism,” he said in his statement, “In His Image,” upon the establishment of the committee.
Bishop George V. Murry, SJ, of Youngstown, Ohio, will chair the new committee, which will focus on galvanizing the Church and society to fight the evil of racism and minister to its victims. It will also focus on engaging racism within the Church.
“Through Jesus’ example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation,” Bishop Murry said. “Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I’m hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society.”
In a press conference on the new committee, Bishop Murry described racism as the “original sin” of the United States, and a problem that remains “cancerous” for the country even today. “In recent years, our divisions have worsened. Hatred is more evident, and becoming more mainstream,” he said. “It has targeted African-Americans and other people of color, Jewish people, immigrants, and others. Our ability to face our problems together, with a common aim, has waned.”
“For those who have been watching even with passing interest, it should be plain to see why we need a concerted effort at this moment. The times demand it. The Gospel demands it,” he said.
The new committee will work together with other committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Murry said, to promote the Church’s message of human dignity against racism at the local levels. “We will focus on a national summit of religious leaders as an early and very important initiative,” he said. “This is not a task for a small and select group.”
White nationalist “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 drew members of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups, as well as other white supremacists. Organizers said the event was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but attendees also chanted racist messages. Friday night featured a torch-lit rally reminiscent of Klan rallies and Nazi rallies. On Saturday, a 20-year-old man from Ohio drove a car into the counter-protest which featured a diverse array of groups including religious leaders, Black Lives Matter, and the anarchist group Antifa. One woman was killed and 19 people were injured in the incident. The driver was charged with second-degree murder.
After the incident, Cardinal DiNardo released a statement condemning the violence and calling for peace. The next day, he released a joint statement with Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, specifically condemning racism, white nationalism, and neo-Nazi ideologies.
The announcement of the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism is the bishops’ latest step in a series of efforts to fight racism and injustice in all their forms. The U.S. bishops’ conference is already planning a new letter on racism to be released in 2018. Last year, then-president of the conference Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville called for a national day of prayer and formed the Peace In Our Communities task force in the wake of nationwide protests of race-related shootings and shootings of police officers.
Bishops on the working committee drafted a report they presented at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Bishops in Baltimore last November. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who chaired the task force, said in the final report that “we find ourselves at a critically important moment for our individual communities and our nation as a whole.”
“The Church has a tremendous opportunity and, we believe, an equally tremendous responsibility to bring people together in prayer and dialogue, to begin anew the vital work of fostering healing and lasting peace,” he said.